The People We Love
Rick Grimes lay back on the bed, his hands up above his head with his wrists bound to the bars of the headboard. He felt exposed in the shorts and open gown that he had worn from the hospital, the man sitting on the side of the bed with a knife before his eyes leaving him uncomfortable but unwavering. He let his eyes run over the length of the small hand blade, knowing that in the new world that he had woken up in it was better than nothing for a weapon.
“For Christ sake, Morgan, give the poor man a break.”
The female voice brought the attention of both men, seeing the woman standing in the doorway of the bedroom. She was holding a bag over her shoulder and dressed in all black clothing, her golden blonde hair pulled up and tucked under a baseball cap. Rick could see that she was wearing a hunting knife around the thigh of her right leg, the buckle keeping the sheath in place allowing him to gauge the amount of toned muscle she had on her thighs.
“Jay, stay out of this,” Morgan scorned, glaring over at her. She glared back, levelling him with her hazel eyes. Rick was taken aback by the light tone of them, the candle light in the room illuminating the colour further. They looked like molten gold, warm but dangerous.
“He doesn’t know what’s going on, Morgan. What man would run around in a hospital gown, with bare feet and no weapon to defend himself?” She stepped up to the bed and snatched the knife from Morgan’s hand, lifting it to cut the ropes that held Rick’s arms in place. He could see traces of sweat and dirt on her skin, not just on her hands but around her collar bone and shoulders as well. Unlike the other two, she seemed to spend much time moving about outside.
“He could be dangerous,” Morgan hissed out, but she just glared at him again as she returned his knife.
“He’s not; he could barely stand on his feet. Let a man recover, at least hear him out!” she snapped back, before looking down at Rick.
A woman, Rick couldn’t help but to think. She seemed stronger than Morgan was, maybe not by physicality, but her will and the way about her was empowered. Morgan looked hesitant, unsure about nearly all that he did. The woman, Jay, however, walked with her shoulders squared, her face set with determination. Her skin was tanned from outside work, the tee that she was wearing taut on her toned arms. He could make out the silent power that she had about herself, the markings on her right hand that proved she knew exactly how to wield that hunting knife and had taken the pain that came with learning.
“Thank you, ma’am,” he said with a nod of his head as he rolled his raw wrists in his hands. They had cramped in the position he had been tied in, he wasn’t sure how long he had been there since he had been ambushed and saved all in one go.
“Sure,” she nodded, her eyes softening. “My name’s Jamie, but you can just call me Jay. No ma’am, please.”
Rick simply nodded his head in understanding, seeing her nod in return before turning to leave. The bag on her shoulder seemed to holding cans inside, the rattling of the metal telling him that she must have been out getting food when he first ran into Morgan and his son. Morgan cut the ropes on his ankles loose, allowing Rick to move his legs once more.
“Come on out when you’re able,” he finally said softly, resigned. Rick didn’t look at him, but glanced over to where the woman had disappeared out the door, pulling off her baseball cap as she went. He lay on the bed a short while longer, looking over at the far wall as he tried to process what had happened since he had woken that afternoon. His mind was moving a mile a minute as he tried to piece everything together, all of new world that he had seen and heard. He could hear Jay’s voice as she spoke to the other two, her tone having calmed since she had snapped at Morgan. It was still feminine but held a deeper baritone to Lori's, strengthening her outward roughened appearance.
Making his way from the bedroom minutes later, a blanket wrapped around his shoulders as his feet dragged along the floor beneath him, Jay was the first to spot him. She offered a smile, catching him off guard, from her place at the small dinner table. She had pulled the hat off and fixed her hair into a bun at the back, her tanned face fully exposed. Her cheeks appeared more hollow than they should be for a woman her age and build, and her throat too delicate for someone that held the silent strength she did. He may have been new to all of this, but by what he had seen he knew'd she'd probably lost weight in the time he'd been unconscious in the hospital.
Not lingering too long, Rick moved into the living room of the home, two beds made up on the floor with another comfortable chair covered in blankets. He knew the home, he had been in it before, back when the family had lived there.
“Fred and Cindy Drakes,” Rick said to himself, seeing Morgan standing in the adjacent doorway to the room. “I knew them, I’ve been in here before.”
“This place was empty when we got here,” Morgan said quickly, defensively. “Never met ‘em.”
He continued to walk a circle around the room, looking over at all the changes that had been made. Furniture was missing, portraits removed from the walls, shelves emptied. Someone that had left in a rush, but took what they could of their family’s home. The windows were covered with several thick blankets, blocking the view of the outside world entirely. Rick stepped up to the nearest one, moving to part the center.
“Don’t do that,” Jay called softly from the other room, moving away from where she was helping with the food. Rick pulled his hand back, looking over to where she was standing beside Morgan. “They’ll see the light, it draws them.”
“There’s a lot more of them out there than usual,” Morgan added on, stepping away from the doorway to return to the table. Jay motioned Rick over, holding out her arm in an inviting gesture. She waited for him as she carefully shuffled his way over to her as Morgan continued talking. “I never should have fired that gun today.”
“Sound draws them in really well,” Jay explained as she placed a hand on Rick’s shoulder comfortingly, leading him to the table. “Now they’re all over the street. I barely got in here before more of them starting showing up. You can usually avoid them pretty well as long as you're not seen or heard.”
“It’s stupid, using a gun,” Morgan said with a shake of his head, looking down at the table. “It all just happened to fast, I didn’t think.” Morgan looked up to Jay as she moved back to her seat, motioning for Rick to take the forth seat at the table, the last one there.
“You shot that man today,” Rick said slowly. He remembered seeing it with his own eyes, the blood of the shot as the bullet ripped through the man’s head, staggering toward him on the street. Morgan hadn't hesitated, he had just pulled the trigger. Point blank.
“Weren’t no man,” Duane said, causing Jay and his father to look at him with warning glances. Duane seemed more concerned about his father, since Jay seemed to have a hint of amusement to her hazel eyes.
“What the hell was that out your mouth just now?” Morgan asked, causing Jay to grin in mirth, hiding the rise of her lips behind her hand so that she didn’t end of with the elder man’s wrath on her instead, even though he couldn’t raise his voice he could still make her feel like a child with their hand caught in the cookie jar.
“It wasn’t a man,” Duane corrected himself, looking between Rick and his father.
“You shot him, in the street, out front,” Rick said, stepping forward to the table as quickly as his weak and tired legs could take him. All three had their eyes on him, but it seemed that only Jay wasn’t looking at him like he had completely lost his mind when he was hit with Duane’s shovel. “A man.”
“It was a man,” Jay started solemnly, her amusement gone as she looked into the water inside her glass, watching the reflections of the lights around them as the liquid and solid warped and bended them to their will. “Once. That thing out there was a walker.” Rick looked to her for further explanation, but she was silent, withdrawn.
“Come on, sit down before you fall down,” Morgan invited, motioning to the same seat that Jay had a couple of minutes before. Jay had already placed some of the baked beans that were cooked onto the plate.
“Daddy,” Duane said before anyone could make a move to eat. Jay seemed to understand what was going to happen before the boy finished what he was saying. “Bless him.” She held her hand out to Duane and Rick, surprising the white male. Morgan held his hand out to his son and Rick as well, the three people that he had just met linking hands before him and waiting for him to complete the circle around the table. Jay’s right hand was calloused, something that he felt sympathetic about. It was clearly her knife and efforts to survive in the word that had given her the new roughness, and it should never have been that way. Not for a woman, or a child, or an innocent single parent.
Looking first at Duane and Jay’s linked hands, he couldn’t help but to notice how pale she looked as her long fingers held Duane’s smaller once, but when he took her other hand in his, her skin was so darkly tanned compared to his pasty pale.
“Father, we thank Thee for this food. Thy blessings. We ask You to watch over us in these crazy days,” Morgan prayed softly, looking over to Rick with a crucial as Rick looked over to Jay, her head bowed down in respect, her eyes closed. She looked peaceful. “Amen.”
“Amen,” Duane and Jay said together, retracting their hands. Jay squeezed Rick’s once softly, offering him one last smile before she pulled her hand back and turned her smile over to Duane. Even with the upturn of her lips, the contentment that the smile was meant to bring never once reached her eyes. They were hard, sad. They were the eyes of someone who had lived thought too much already.
“Hey, Mister, you even know what’s going on?” Morgan finally asked, only a couple of bites into the meal. Rick knew that the question would come, and he didn’t have any other answer than the best one. The truth.
“I woke up today,” he started, thinking back to the hospital. His heart dropped with dread at the thought, his stomach turning in disgust as the bodies of the dead returned to his mind, haunting him. He could see the woman that had been lying in the grass as he picked up the bike, half her body missing and clearly dead, reaching out for him. “I was in the hospital, came home and that’s all I know.”
“But you know about the dead people, right?”
“Yea, I saw a lot of that. Out on the loading dock, piled in trucks,” Rick said, trying not to think about the stink that had risen off the decaying bodies as he walked through the seemingly endless rows of white sheets covering the dead.
“No,” Jay said softly, shaking her head. She was serious, her once soft eyes hard once again. “Not the dead ones, not the ones that were put down. The ones that weren’t. Walkers.”
“Like the one that I shot today,” Morgan added in, explaining further. “’Cause he’d have ripped into you, try to eat you, take some flesh at least.” Rick listened to Morgan as he spoke, trying to soak in all he could about the things out on the streets that he could. He didn’t know everything that was happening, he was pretty sure that not many people did know what was happening, but he would take as much information as he could get.
“There’s one thing that you have to remember,” Jay finally said once Morgan had gone quiet for a moment, pushing the food around her plate silently, “Don’t get bit.” She looked up to meet Rick’s eyes as she spoke, holding his complete attention. “You’re bandage is what got these two so startled. A bite will kill you, infect you. If you get bit, you’re not going to last very long.”
“The fever sets in,” the elder man finished for her, “It burns you out, but then after a while you come back.”
Only a short hour later, the food was finished and all things packed away again. Rick had been given the extra mattress that Jay used from time to time, since she was the one that would be up on watch most of the night, and favoured the chair when she wasn’t. Morgan and Duane hand already curled up on the other two mattresses that were pushed together across the room while Jay moved about the house with haunting silence to check that there was no way that the walkers could get in.
He could see when she slipped down the stairs that led up to the top floor, her bare feet not making a single sound on the hardwood flooring. Her hair had been freshly brushed and she had changed from the black clothing that she had been wearing when he had first seen her. She was wearing a white tank top, free of dirt and dust stains, and a pair of sweat pants that looked too big to be hers. He could see the black straps of her bra drawn over her bony shoulders, bruises marring her flesh.
“All clear,” she announced when she stepped into the room, grasping Morgan’s shoulder as she did so. His hand lifted to hers, returning the tight grip for a moment before he returned his attention to his son. Jay moved over to where a bag was located on the ground beside the doorway, turning her back to Rick and the others. The sheriff was taken aback at the sight of two angel wing tattoos peaking around the back strap of her tank top.
“We call her Angel sometimes,” Morgan said, causing Jay to look over her shoulder at them, noticing that Rick was staring at her back. “She doesn’t like it though.”
“Why not?” Rick asked carefully, looking up to her hazel eyes.
“My boyfriend used to call me Angel. I…I don’t know where he is.”
Rick could see the haunting sadness return to her eyes as it had before, looking down to the ground as she pulled a long sleeved shirt from the bag to keep warm through the night as the air cooled. Rick could sympathize with her, he didn’t know if Lori and Carl had survived, he had a strong feeling that they were alright though, and he knew that he was going to find them.
“That’s who you’re looking for?” he asked, meeting her gaze as she as pulling the shirt over her head, pausing a moment before she slid her hands through the loose sleeves. Much like the pants, the shirt was loose on her, well-worn with holes around the collar.
She smiled to herself for a moment as she held the collar up to her nose, inhaling delicately. “This was his,” she mumbled softly, looking over to meet his saddened gaze. “One of the very few long sleeved shirts that he actually owned.”
Rick could understand the sorrow in her words, in her eyes. “I’m looking for people I love, too.”